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Love ain't quite lost in Gandhi parivar

April 03, 2014 09:22 IST

Love ain't quite lost in Gandhi parivar

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Anita Katyal/Rediff.com

Okay so Varun Gandhi has put an end to speculation about a “Gandhi vs Gandhi” electoral face-off in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The bigger story of the day, however, here is the strange relationship that the Gandhi siblings -- Rahul and Varun -- and their families share.

Rediff.com’s Anita Katyal reports

The relationship between estranged Gandhi cousins was once again the focus of attention on Wednesday when Bharatiya Janata Party candidate from Sultanpur Varun Gandhi praised cousin Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for the work he has done in his constituency, Amethi.

Varun referred appreciatively to the initiatives undertaken by Rahul in Amethi at a meeting in his constituency, stating that similar development work should be implemented in Sultanpur.

While an embarrassed BJP was cringing at this uncalled for praise at a time when the saffron party is locked in a high-voltage electoral battle with the Congress, Rahul was quick to respond to his cousin’s words of praise.

Stating that he was happy about his work being appreciated, Rahul said, "I am very happy that others are appreciating the work that we are doing here. We have worked in Amethi with a certain strategy in mind."

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Caught on the backfoot, Varun subsequently clarified that that his comment should not be seen as endorsement of any party or candidate.

"My comment, last night, in a meeting with teachers and NGOs, in response to being asked whether I knew about initiatives in Amethi, was that although I had not seen the work done via self help groups in Amethi, I had heard it was fairly decent, and that I would stress. It should not be seen as an endorsement of any political party or candidate," Varun said.

The younger Gandhi’s belated explanation was meant to underscore that the two cousins are firmly in opposite political camps but Varun’s comments about Rahul only reaffirmed that the much-talked about “Gandhi vs Gandhi” electoral face-off is unlikely to take place in the ongoing Lok Sabha poll.

When the BJP decided to field Varun from the Sultanpur Lok Sabha constituency adjoining Rahul’s Amethi, it was generally expected that this move would set the stage for a family duel and make for a great media story.

But that appears to be highly unlikely.

Varun has already declared that he will not campaign in either Amethi or Rae Bareli, (his aunt Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s constituency).

This is not totally unexpected as Varun has generally shied away from publicly attacking his cousins Rahul and Priyanka.

This is in sharp contrast to his mother, Maneka Gandhi, whose antipathy towards her sister-in-law Sonia is well-known.

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Maneka once called Rahul immature, describing him as a “bird” as compared to “lion” Narendra Modi.

Only recently, she launched a scathing attack against Sonia when she wondered how a woman who had "brought nothing in dowry at the time of her marriage went on to become the sixth richest woman in the world.”

One of the few occasions that Varun criticised Rahul was after the latter had described the ordinance providing protection to convicted Parliamentarians as “nonsense” while adding that it ought to be torn up.

Varun had then remarked, “Rahul’s comments were against the prime minister and made at a time when he was representing the nation on foreign soil. As such, the BJP thinks the remarks tantamount to insult of the nation as a whole and the Congress should apologise for it."

But this was a rare instance.

At one time Varun had admitted that he felt uncomfortable when he saw Rahul being publicly attacked and ridiculed.

His cousins Rahul and Priyanka have also reciprocated the gesture and the only time they commented on Varun was after the latter was jailed for making communally provocative speeches.

In a rare comment, Priyanka said these sort of comments were not "what the Gandhis have lived and died for". Rahul had said that Varun was blinded by "hatred and anger".

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Sonia’s biographer Rasheed Kidwai told rediff.com that the relations between the cousins are “shrouded in mystery” as all of them take care not to speak ill of each of other in public.

“In fact, Priyanka is said to speak very fondly about Varun in private conversations,” Kidwai said.

He added that before she joined politics, Sonia was also said to be fond of Varun who called her Sonia chachi while she addressed him as ‘Varun darling’.

Varun was barely three months old when his father Sanjay Gandhi was killed in a plane crash. Given the enormity of the tragedy, both Sonia and Rajiv grew extremely fond of Varun.

However, relations between the widowed Maneka and Rajiv and Sonia soured after the former was literally forced to leave Indira Gandhi’s Safdarjang Road residence in the early eighties.

Nevertheless, Varun would often visit his aunt and uncle and spend time with his cousins. These visits petered out after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. Varun did drop in occasionally to spend time with Rahul and Priyanka when Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister.

According to Kidwai, Maneka never stopped her son from visiting his cousins despite her estranged relationship with Rajiv and Sonia.

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Tensions mounted between the two wings of the family after Sonia claimed the Nehru-Gandhi legacy and took over as Congress president even though she had always kept a safe distance from politics.

On the other hand, Maneka, who had always been politically inclined, was left stranded.

She first aligned herself with Janata Dal’s V P Singh and subsequently joined the BJP. Her son Varun -- several years younger than Rahul -- followed suit.

Although the BJP has constantly attacked the Nehru-Gandhi family, it was overjoyed at having bagged a Gandhi.

Writing in his book, Sonia, Kidwai points out that Varun, who was in a hurry to “outshine and outscore” his more illustrious cousin, joined the BJP to enter Lok Sabha “to place himself at par with Rahul as the parliamentary forum would help everyone judge and evaluate the two Gandhis.”

And yet the younger Gandhi declared while joining the BJP that he would never speak against the family or rake up communal issues.

This has upset the BJP as Varun makes it a point not to attack Rahul while he steers clear of praising the party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

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According to Kidwai, Varun maintained that as a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family, he was "exercised" over joining a castiest party like the BJP but was left with little choice.

It is believed that before joining the BJP, Varun sought services of a Congress chief minister to send across a communication to Sonia but the chief minister did not convey it.

Kidwai said this came out when Varun called up Rahul wishing him success for Amethi polls.

“He gingerly told Rahul about reluctance to join the BJP. Rahul expressed surprise and regretted that the chief minister did not inform the family,” Kidwai writes in his book.

Providing a fascinating insight into the relationship between the estranged Gandhis, Kidwai notes in his book: “The pressure on the new generation of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to deliver results for their respective political parties is mounting but amid heat and political divide, the young Gandhis are trying to be good to each other. In fact, the two sides are said to be in regular touch on birthdays.”

And yet Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka stayed away from Varun’s wedding two years ago.

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Varun misses no opportunity in calling on Priyanka didi which these days happen roughly around once in three months.

Priyanka and her children -- Rehan and Meira -- are extremely fond of Varun. 

Like 10, Janpath, Varun is keen to reciprocate the warmth.

But some Congress leaders insist that Varun's claim of being ‘close’ to Priyanka and Rahul are ‘far-fetched’ and ‘untrue’, says Kidwai.

Even though Rahul and Varun are careful not to attack each other publicly, contesting the coming election from adjoining constituencies will not cease to generate interest.

While Varun has shifted from Pilibhit to Sultanpur next to the constituency represented by his father, his older cousin Rahul has won twice from his late father’s constituency Amethi.

Both are chips of the old block, similar to their fathers.

While Rahul comes across as being a reluctant politician like Rajiv, Varun, like his father Sanjay, displays the same daredevilry and eagerness to make it big in a hurry.




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